Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 30, 2010 in The 2L Life

Today was my first in Child Custody Court helping to mediate as part of my volunteer work with the ADR Clinic at the NC Central University School of Law.

Hopefully it will also be my last :beatup:

John and Jane Doe have been divorced for 2 years and have 4 kids between them, ranging in ages from 22 to 12. They’re both middle-aged people, intelligent (both employed as teachers actually), seemingly rational… and have been to court many, many times over those 2 years. Yesterday they had a day-long hearing over a new child support agreement; they’re coming back next week to dispute custody.

The case today was solely to discuss unreimbursed medical expenses.

Both of the parties were insanely difficult to work with.  John’s first words in the mediation were that he understood compromise had to be involved, and the only way he was budging was if “miracles happen.” He then said the only reason he was participating was because the court ordered the mediation, but he’d prefer we just declare an impasse immediately and let the judge resolve everything.

As we continued with the mediation, Jane kept making remarks about John being a deadbeat and irrational and dozens upon dozens of other criticisms. Then John would turn to my co-mediator and I to tell us about how insane Jane was and how she was showing us here in-person. By the end of the mediation 3 hours later, John had already walked out once declaring he wasn’t going to sign any agreement. Then once he came back and had agreed to mutual terms and signed the paperwork, Jane decided she wasn’t going to sign any agreement because John had signed it, and would instead take everything before the judge.1 :roll:

The really infuriating part? The thing that has me convinced to never again set foot in that courtroom if I can help it? The entire dispute was over…

…wait for it…


…$31.03 :crack:

Three hours of mediation, dozens of snarky comments to each other and to the mediators, a subsequent court hearing to secure judicial approval of the agreement,2 all over $31.03. Had these two people — educators! with attorneys! — just had the maturity to deal with each other with some modicum of civility, they could have resolved this issue without ever coming to court in a proceeding that cost the taxpayers as much in court personnel salaries, heating/lights, etc as the amount in dispute.

For comparison:  although my mediation work is pro bono, had this been a mediation in civil superior court it would have cost $600 ($150 administration fee + $150 per hour for labor).

Volunteering with the ADR Clinic is slowly convincing me some people should just be banned from ever using the court system… :roll:

  1. She changed her mind soon thereafter, undoubtedly influenced by the “Are you f*cking kidding me?” looks she got from my co-mediator and I :beatup: []
  2. Required for all mediated agreements involving child custody and support issues. []

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